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Islington Tribune - by TOM FOOT
Published: 20 February 2009
Threatened health centre wins reprieve

FINSBURY Health Centre has won a shock stay of execution after Town Hall chiefs used emergency powers to halt the sale of the historic building.
In an unexpected boost to the campaign to save the centre, Islington Council’s health and wellbeing scrutiny committee has voted unanimously in favour of referring the decision to close the Grade I-listed building directly to Health Secretary Alan Johnson.
It is the first time a decision made by Islington Primary Care Trust, now known as NHS Islington, has been blocked in this way by the council.
Committee chairman Labour councillor Paul Convery said: “This means the decision to close the centre is taken out of the hands of the PCT and that any planned shifting of services is frozen until the Secretary of State has reviewed the process.” He added: “I have known about this power for something like two years but this is the first time we have used it. You do not press the stop button without good reason.”
NHS Islington decided on January 29 to close the health centre, designed by acclaimed architect Berthold Lubetkin, and move services – including podiatry, physiotherapy and children’s specialists – to existing health centres across the borough. A new health centre would be built in Holloway.
The Finsbury centre would be sold to property or retail developers.
Cllr Convery said: “We are not doing this because there are lots of patients with sentimental feelings about the building.
“We are doing this because we believe the wider plans are half-baked. The PCT has crashed on with a model that flies in the face of public opinion.”
Councillors believe the worsening recession is not the best time to make major property portfolio decisions.
Finsbury Health Centre has provided public health services for more than 70 years.
The campaign to prevent the sale of the Pine Street building has attracted the support of both Islington MPs, former Culture Secretary Chris Smith and campaign group Architects for Health.
Campaigners presented a 1,800-signature petition to Mr Johnson earlier this year.
Save Finsbury Health Centre campaigner Barb Jacobson, who has opposed closure plans since they were announced in July last year, said: “This is a huge boost. It blocks all these services relocating and blocks the move to sell the building.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said it would “take months” for its independent relocation panel to reach a decision on the health centre’s future.
NHS Islington chief executive Rachel Tyndall said she was “disappointed” with the committee’s action.
She added: “Even though we have spent many years trying to come up with a plan to keep services within Finsbury Health Centre, the committee has recommended that we look again to see if there is another way we can keep services on the site.
“We do know how much local people love this building and we will take forward this recommendation to see if there is a viable way the building can be modernised and retained.”

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